Jeremy Abroad

How to work an office job without destroying your eyes, wrists, and back

October 02, 2018

It probably won’t come as a surprise to you that sitting down all day and staring at a bright LED screen a couple feet away from your eyeballs while repeating the same hand motions over and over again for 8 hours a day isn’t great for your health. Eye strain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and a bad back are very real.

Bad Posture

The younger people here are probably rolling their eyes: “I’ve been doing this my whole life and I’m fine, what difference does it make?”

If you’re doing this every day, you will inevitably be crippled by this, and way sooner than you think. It didn’t even take me a year of working full-time to start feeling the symptions enough to where I knew something had to change.

I highly recommend taking these precautions as soon as possible in order to delay the inevitable crippling of your body (unless of course you want to have unbearable eye strain, need glasses, a bad back, and carpal tunnel syndrome, in which case you should stop reading this article).

Dark Themes / Night-Mode

Always use dark themes / night-mode. Avoid staring at bright screens (eg. white background with black text).

White text on a black background is far better for your eyes than black text on a white background. This is why code editors these days almost always default to a dark theme (sadly that didn’t use to be the case).

I use the “Dark Reader” Chrome plugin to make any website dark. I set the plugin up so that it doesn’t modify the look of any new website until I tell it to (CTRL+SHIFT+A). It works on 90% of websites without any problems.

Of course your code editors should always be dark. If they’re not, then you will inevitably be forced to make them dark when your vision deteriorates.

This is something I had to do not because everything being dark makes me look like a 1337 hacker, but because the eye strain became so unbearable that I was forced to find another solution.

f.lux / SunsetScreen

These programs help reduce eye strain by reducing blue light. They make a massive difference.

f.lux is the most popular, but I prefer SunsetScreen for Windows because you can toggle it on/off instantly without that annoyingly long transition.

Look away from the monitor as often as possible, ideally focusing on distant objects

If you’re sitting there in deep thought, get in the habit of looking away from the monitor. It’s also good to focus on distant objects (eg. looking out the window) every now and then in order to prevent nearsightedness and eye strain.

While you’re at it, stretch and massage your wrist/hands/back (more on that below).

Laptop Stand / Monitor at eye level

Laptops are absolutely terrible for your back, and if you don’t feel the pain now you most certainly will eventually if you use them long enough.

The reason for this is that the monitor is too low, forcing you to hunch over, which is terrible for your back and posture.

Ideally you want the monitor to be at eye level. This can be accomplished via purchasing a laptop stand and using an external keyboard.

I use the Roost Laptop Stand ($75), but you can find cheap portable laptop stands on Amazon for $20 and I think they’re just as good as this one. Just make sure they fold up so that it doesn’t take much room in your backpack.

I just use a cheap wired USB keyboard ($14). No complaints.

If you’re using a computer monitor, make sure it’s at eye level. If it’s not, then get a monitor stand or place it on top of some big books.

Put the monitor as far away as possible

A lot of people sit way too close to their monitors.

Get a high-resolution monitor (4k is great)

I know I’ll sound spoiled, but I can’t look at 1080p monitors anymore for extended amounts of time without feeling the eye strain. Even my 2015 Macbook Pro was starting to strain my eyes (I don’t feel this on newer Macbook Pros or my Dell XPS 15 laptop with its 4k screen).

Higher resolution monitors are better for your eyesight. Don’t be shy about asking your company for a higher resolution monitor. 4K monitors are relatively expensive, but your eyes will thank you.

Ergonomic Mouse

Make sure to get a mouse that actually fits your hand, not one of those tiny carpal-tunnel inducing mouses that for whatever reason seem to be the standard.

I use a Steelseries Rival 300. I’m not a gamer, it was just the only comfortable mouse I could find that fits my standard adult male sized hands.

The Logitech MX Master is a popular choice, but I personally prefer the default thumb position resting on the forward/back buttons rather than the (unclickable) horizontal scroll wheel.

Adjust your chair height to make sure you’re at the optimal level

In my experience most office desks are too low, requiring me to lower my chair height significantly.

My first company had desks that were too low, requiring me to lower my chair height so much that my legs weren’t at a comfortable height. If you’re designing an office, please don’t make the same mistake that company made.

Get a standing desk

Stretch and massage your wrists/hands periodically, as well as your back/shoulders

I do this every opportunity I get, and it makes a big difference in reducing carpal tunnel.

I like to rotate my wrists such that my palms are facing up, bend my hands backwards towards the floor, and hold. It seems to counter the position that typing and holding a mouse forces your hands into.

Work out

Sitting down all day is bad for you. You should be doing cardio and lifting weights regardless, but even moreso if you have a sedentary office job where you’re about as active as a vegetable.

You might not feel the symptoms now, but if you’re spending a significant amount of time in front of the computer (eg. 40+ hours/week) without taking any precautions, I promise you that you will inevitably feel the symptoms of eye strain, carpal tunnel, and a back back.

Taking these precautions might not make you immune, but they will drastically help in delaying what would otherwise be inevitable.

Jeremy Bernier

Written by Jeremy Bernier who left the NYC rat race to travel the world, work remotely, and find the meaning of life.